Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis de Púbol (1904-1989)
Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)
oil on canvas 51 cm x 77 cm – private collection
Be the change that you wish to see in the world
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Several years ago, I was asked to write an article on «the consumer, this unknown person1» for a French newspaper. The main point emphasized was that we were about to witness consumer behavior very similar to Dissociative Identity Disorder2, without its pathological consequences. The essential feature of this conduct «[…] is the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states […] that recurrently take control of behavior»3. The diagnosis requires that at least two personalities (one may be the host) routinely take control of the individual’s behavior with an associated memory loss that goes beyond normal forgetfulness…
Our identity disorders revealed!
Until the 90s, the consumer was functioning in a rather faithful way vis-à vis a brand or a product, from fashion to super-market. Do you remember women dressed in Chanel from head to toe (or Dior, or Givenchy, or Thierry Mugler for that matter…), including the associated fragrance and other body products? Do you remember the epic marketing battles between Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, or those between Coca-Cola and Pepsi in order to attract and retain customers loyal to the brand? Well, the buzz created by the book «No Logo»4 was merely the visible part of the iceberg… You may now forget all prior established positions gained and comfort zones within well-defined segments or target groups… Today’s consumer is able to operate choices in a multi-layered mode: accept simultaneous messages from a wide spectrum of senders, combine at his/her will aspects which may appear contradictory, even absurd.
Hence, what could be the relevance of this past article with today’s issues? Well, it seems that chronic confusion of communication4 made visible its side effects: on the financial (i.e. «choice of entering/leaving a market/stock»), economic (i.e. «choice of brand/product») and political (i.e. «choice of party/vote») levels, the liberated consumers-cum-citizens use any given information flux at their will, eventually combined at will. This is a major transformation which took place over the last years. We may waive goodbye to the archetypal cleavages6 which produced predictable behaviours and predetermined response to any given stimulus. At the same time, society (accepted here simultaneously as a whole and as the addition of the individuals who shape it) is forming a gap which amplifies itself with time:
- citizens who confirm -for the first time after WW II- that they are moving ahead of their political, economical and social elites. In a previous EBR article , some factors were analysed in order to propose an explanation of this profound shift in our societies
- opposing this recent development, politicians, CEOs, syndicate leaders are still behaving as nothing has moved from the status quo ante: absence of vision, futile promises, incoherence in action, the list is a long one and known to all…
The time is now…
We are caught today in a simple yet peculiar paradox: the so-called «civil society» (or «citizens», for that matter) have agreed to hand over to their political, economical and social elites the design of their future. At the same time, they did not receive the implied benefits of this exchange: to benefit from sound economic management in their countries, to restore their confidence in the future of themselves and of their families, to cultivate an increased awareness of the present, in short…
The recent movements of disapproval in European countries (starting from Spain, then in Italy, in Greece, in France, etc.) demonstrate that social cohesion is at stake. Instead of deviate their attention from issues created from serious ill-management of public resources, as in the past, citizens have identified clearly the present situation, have analysed the various aspects of the problem and start proposing new ideas to deal with those issues… regardless of their elites. The urge for «quick wins» and for enhanced efficiency have revealed the existing «culture bunkers», where lack of exposure with the «real» issues and overprotection from risk9 gradually excluded the elites from everyday’s «smart» solutions.
The active citizen who participates in a constructive way to enhance daily life, who disposes of valuable experience with «cumulative comparisons», who is fed up with incoherence between promises made and concrete actions, has reduced drastically the space for political manoeuvre. Similar to a successful company, time has come for the public sector to incorporate dynamic members of the society in all stages of the decision-making process, from the strategic choices to implementation.
In Ancient Greece, mythology and its diversity of possible interpretations was used in order to establish a formal perception of the complexity of the surrounding phenomena. One of those myths, the oath made to the dark waters of Styx, had a precise function: the absolute succession of acts following one’s promise. Once pronounced10, the vow -a kind of moral bond, was compulsory for both Gods and humans alike.
We may say that this mythological conception establishes the foundation of a society of law, to be respected among equals, once announced. Well, we may have walked several steps in the path of law since then, however can we establish with certainty that this fundamental relation of trust is respected in full today? In addition, can we fulfil the requirement of action («πράξις», praxis) following the promise («λόγος», logos) made to a counterpart?
Thus far, our institutions have shown their capacity of response in times of growth. But in times of severe crises, where the agreed fundamentals of the social contract operate with difficulty, a wide debate and reshuffle cannot be avoided. This institutional correction may provide the bounce of new social dynamic where multiple competing logics can co-exist, co-operate and co-create.
«Bottom-up» is the only way to go!
In strategy, the pyramid is one of the most well-known pictograms. I have used it myself, as I have seen it to describe almost every layer-based relation from the limited top down to the wider bottom… However, it turned out to be rapidly retrograde to my eyes: the multitude relations and interactions cannot be explained by such a design. Furthermore, the layers of hierarchy links simply miss the quality and quantities of human interactions which make things possible at the end of the day…
Then, one may remember the revolution started in Japan during the ’70s inside the keiretsu11. The quality circles and the just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing strategy in the automotive industry, the triumph of SONY’s Walkman, were made possible only through the implementation of a radical «bottom-up» approach, redesigning the whole process in order to achieve high ROI, quality and efficiency. Our societies are in an identical situation, where we need to redesign the way we «design», «produce» and «promote» our national and supranational policies. Zero-based budgeting (ZBB), accountability for the public expense, project ownership, responsibility for the end-results, transparency throughout the decision-making process, are just few of the models that must be introduced and maintained in all levels of the public sphere.
For how long, the leaders in the EU (at national and supranational levels) have the intention to remain with their eyes wide shut, their ears wide sealed, their mouths wide blocked to this «inconvenient truth»?
«Hic et nunc» (here and now) is considered to be one of the most mystic truths of the Ancient World. It stresses out the urgency of action on-the-spot, right away. Yet, its very simplicity makes it the perfect oath for any results-committed person, citizen and leader alike, much needed today to be an enthusiastic constituent of significant positive shift in our policies, our economies, our civilisation… Then, when you have finished reading this article, DO IT for yourself, for your close circle, for your friends and for the society you live in! NOW!
1 «Le consommateur, cet inconnu», in Le Monde -Informatique, 04/1999.
2 DID, also known as Multiple Personality Disorder (F44.8 in the ICD-10 Version:2010 of the WHO).
3 American Psychiatric Association (2000-06), Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders-IV, American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. pp. 526-529.
4 Naomi Klein, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Knopf Canada/Picador, 1999, 490 p.
5 In all four aspects of the SMCR (Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver) Model of Communication, as created by D.K. Berlo (1960), enhanced by D.C. Barnlund (2008) with the transactional model of communication, which introduces the simultaneous engaging of individuals in the sending and receiving messages between them.
6 Seymour Martin Lipset & Stein Rokkan, Party Systems and Voter Alignments, Free Press, 1967. The four basic cleavages for western civilisation after the Industrial Revolution were: 1) Owner-Worker, 2) State-Church, 3) Urban-Rural, and 4) Centre-Periphery.
7 «The Fullness of Time?», EBR No. 1/2012, pp. 30-33.
8 By political elites, we understand mainly the leaders and the administration of the political formations, including their executive arm (ministries, companies of the Public sector, etc.). By economical elites, we consider the Boards of major companies (CEOs, CFOs, etc.), consultancies, etc. By social elites, we comprehend leaders of Trade Unions and other syndicates, pressure groups, etc. Naturally, one could always bring out an outstanding person or two and argue on the fallacies of this presentation. Unfortunately, though, exceptions do not make the rule, they are merely a reference…
9 After several scandals that blew away this « urban myth » of risk-aversion choices (BCCI, Y2K, Xerox, Enron, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, Arthur Andersen, AIG, Bernard L. Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, Lehman Brothers, etc.), one may observe how overrated and ill-managed was this whole concept.
10 The importance of the word is highlighted in several sacred texts of different religions.
11 Grouping of enterprises, conglomerates. Centered on a core bank, the system of combined ownership between the member companies helps insulate each company from stock market fluctuations and takeover attempts, thus enabling long-term planning in innovative projects.
Harris D. Vourkas is a strategy consultant for major European companies and policy advisor to Governments and local authorities.
On November 11, 2011, he founded the non-for-profit «ATHROISIS – Growth for Greece» in order to promote a new development model for his country.
Born in Thessaloniki in 1966, he holds degrees from the ULB, Sciences-Po Paris & the French ENA.
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